Why Don’t Cats Like Their Paws Touched?


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I’m sure most of us are familiar with the term “toe beans” and if you’re not, then take a look at your kitty’s paws and you’ll most likely understand the reference.

The jellybean resemblance is on point, right?

Well, I’m sure most of us also know that touching your cat’s toe beans can be met with an annoyed stare, as they pull their paw away from us.

So, why don’t cats like their paws touched? Cat paws have large concentrations of nerve receptors, making them very sensitive to touch, temperature changes, and pain. Some cats simply don’t like the sensation of their paws being touched, while others feel vulnerable, or in rare cases it could be a sign of an injury. 

If you want to know more about why some cats do and why some cats don’t enjoy having their paws touched, then let’s get right into it!

Why Don’t Cats Like Their Paws Touched?

It can be hard to resist not touching your cat’s paws especially if you’re in the middle of a petting session, and when you give in your cat can react in two possible ways. Firstly, they might simply stiffen and pull back their leg, as a warning for you to never do it again. Secondly, they might use their paws to claw their way out of your embrace.

Of course, this might not apply to all cats, but if it applies to yours then here’s a list of possible explanations, for their paw-protectiveness!

Reason 1: Cats Have Sensitive Paws

You might’ve heard that your kitty’s paw pads help them regulate their temperature through sweating but that’s not all they can do.

Dr. Lynn Buzhardt explains that your cat’s thick and rubbery pads not only look cute but also serve as shock absorbers, protecting their bones and joints during running, walking, and pouncing.

Thanks to these impact-resistant paw pads, they can jump high without injuring themselves. As researchers discovered “the pads were found to have multiple layers, which help dissipate the impact forces.”

Your cat’s paw pads also serve as insulation from extreme temperatures. Most importantly they help distinguish temperatures by up to 1-degree Celsius. Their sensitivity also helps them find their way through uneven and rough terrain, climb trees and mark certain areas, or communicate with other cats and animals through the scent glands located on these pads.

In other words, your cat’s paws serve several important functions and are filled with nerves in order to pull all this off. That also makes your cat’s paws a very sensitive part of their body so it shouldn’t be a surprise when they pull their paw away from you!

Not only might a toe touch feel strange, but it’s instinctive for them to protect this important part of their body. This doesn’t mean your cat is afraid of you, and they can still love you and be protective of themselves!

Reason 2: Past Trauma Experiences

This protectiveness over their paws is similar to how some cats don’t like their tails touched. They’re both sensitive and important parts of their body, and they can often be attached to previous bad experiences.

For example, a traumatic experience could be you trimming your cat’s nails, or accidentally stepping on their paw causing an injury that you had to treat over a long period of time. A declawed cat will most likely feel uncomfortable when you touch their paws because it’s one of the most traumatic experiences a cat can go through. Declawed cats can also experience long-term lameness and possible pain in their paws.

These negative experiences, this pain, are usually associated with strong emotions. Our feline companions are smart and driven by their survival instinct, so they’ll do anything not to relieve the same painful or uncomfortable experience. Trying to hold your cat’s paw could be triggering past trauma.

You might not even be a part of this past trauma. Cats that experience rough handling from strangers, and previous owners often times carry that emotional baggage into their new home.

Perhaps by changing your approach, being gentler with your touch, and respecting their boundaries, these old wounds will begin to heal, and one day their paw will find their way into your hand.

Reason 3: Injury

If you’re used to occasionally touching your cat’s paw without being met with any protest then a sudden change of heart can be alarming. If you notice your kitty being defensive about their paw, then they might be in pain.

It could be a scratch, the odd bump, and bruise from either rough playing with his cat mates, or simply a bad landing. Either way even a small wound can cause discomfort and your touch could upset your kitty, especially since their paws are extra sensitive.

You might find your cat pulling their paw away from you and even refusing to show it to you. This can make it difficult to actually detect if there’s an injury, causing such behavior.  That’s why observing your cat’s walk is important, to look for any signs of limping, or grooming and biting the specific spot.

If you have the opportunity to gently inspect the paw, you might see swelling, and if there’s an injury at play veterinarians state that “the paw will feel warm or your cat may react as if in pain. You may also see pus, blood, or crusty material on the paw or in between the toes. Keep an eye out for any of those signs.”

When it comes to your cat’s paws, noticing such symptoms, or changes in your cat’s behavior means that it’s time to pay a visit to a professional vet!

Reason 4: Your Cat Is Old

Another reason you might find your cat reluctant to receive some paw squeezing and petting is a condition called osteoarthritis.

Robin Downing, DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CRPP explains that osteoarthritis (OA) “is a complex condition involving inflammation and degeneration of one or more joints. Cats with OA experience pain and inflammation in various joints that interfere with the activities of daily living.”

Joint pain is usually observed in senior cats, and sensitive areas like your kitty’s paws can easily become inflamed and stiff with age. A study done by the Journal of Small Animal Practice, on 28 cats showed that 45% of cats had their elbow affected by osteoarthritis.

While age can be a major factor in your cat’s joint discomfort, OA can be caused by your cat’s overall built, obesity, abnormal joint development, an orthopedic surgery, the quality of their nutritional history, and of course past injuries.

Reluctance to be touched on their paw can be a sign of discomfort caused by a condition like OA, and it’s truly important that you have your kitty checked regularly, to establish whether this reluctance is part of a condition or a preference.

Reason 5: They Might Not Trust You Yet

It’s quite possible that the reason why your cat doesn’t like their paws touched stems from trust issues. As I’ve explained above it could be tied to past traumatic experiences, perhaps your relationship is new, or you need to further expand your understanding of the feline psyche.

Gaining a cat’s trust can be difficult, and that’s why some people tend to call them aloof or distant. But it’s important to understand that building a relationship with cats takes time. Studying your cat’s body language, knowing when to let go is crucial for trust-building. Your cat needs to know that if you touch their paw they’re not in danger. If their association is negative, then they’ll feel vulnerable, and they might even act aggressively to defend themselves.

You also need to remember that petting your cat isn’t the same as holding or petting their paws because their paws are weapons that help them catch prey and protect themselves. By grabbing or handling a cat’s paw, especially if they already showed signs of discomfort will make them feel trapped.

If you want to be in the “you’re my favorite human” club then try learning their feline language, the movement of their ears, how relaxed their body is, and of course their tail!

Reason 6: They Just Don’t Like It

When it comes to our cats it’s important to remember that they’ve got a personality of their own, and what might seem enjoyable to one, might be frustrating to another.

Of course, your kitty’s dislike towards their paws being touched can be the outcome of a previous bad experience or a sign of pain, but if these things don’t apply to you then it’s safe to say that they might simply have different preferences when it comes to petting.

Try not to take it personally but see it as them claiming their personal space. Over the years, you might see their attitude change, and as your mutual trust grows you might notice them become less defensive. But it’s also perfectly fine for a cat to refuse to change this habit.

Why Don’t Cats Like Their Back Paws Touched?

Most cats or at least a great number of feline companions won’t allow their humans, and especially strangers to touch their paws, both front, and back. Any attempt to touch their back paws will most likely have a similar reaction if you were to touch their belly.

When I pet my cats along their back, I’ll absentmindedly reach their thigh and leg, and the moment I come closer to their back paws they quickly use them to push my hand away. It’s a funny reaction, and their hind legs remind me of a cartoon bunny, but I try to respect their wishes and I stick to their back, at least as long as I can resist.

Your cat’s reaction might be less civilized since they can hiss and bat at you for disrespecting their back paw privacy. While others will simply get up and leave or move further away from you.

The reason a feline companion may react this way can vary from cat to cat, and you might find your kitty display the same reaction for both the front and back paws. Some cats might hate the feeling of their hind legs being touched while having more tolerance for front paw petting, it really depends on their personal preference!

What Does It Mean When Cats let You Touch Their Paws?

Some cats keep their precious paws secure by tucking them in, while others will happily offer their toe beans to their humans. If you’re one of those people who get to massage their cat’s paws freely, you’re probably curious to know how you got this lucky!

They’ve Been Well-Socialized

How well a cat is accustomed to human interaction is heavily influenced by their experiences as kittens. Cats that were hand-raised from a young age and positively socialized with other animals and humans will most likely grow into confident adult cats that actively enjoy being petted, and they will like or at least tolerate their paws being touched.

Debra Horowitz, DVM, DACVB states that “cats that receive insufficient exposure and contact with people, other animals, and new environments during their first two months may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity or aggression.”

So, if you’ve adopted a kitten not only are they more open to training, but you’ll have more time to invest in a trusted relationship. This will affect your interactions, and in case of an injured paw, your feline companion will be more comfortable with you inspecting it in spite of the pain.

It’s A Sign of Trust and Comfort

Adopting a kitten isn’t always possible and sometimes we fall in love with an already fully grown cat and their individuality. I’ve adopted two strays; one was a kitten and the other an adult at the time, and I’m lucky to have the trust of these two beautiful creatures.

Despite the age difference both of them grew into happy cats, and while they might not enjoy it when I touch their paws, they’ll trust me enough when a paw inspection is necessary. If your cat allows you to touch its paws, chances are, they trust you, and they know you mean well.

Just look at these two beautiful cats that not only seem to enjoy the back paw tickle, but they receive it with a playful attitude!

If that’s you, then this is something you can definitely be proud of since it shows that your paw interactions had positive outcomes. Of course, that doesn’t mean your cat doesn’t trust you if they don’t let you touch their paw. As we’ve established there are many factors at play, and by respecting their wishes their trust will manifest in different ways, even if it’s unrelated to their paws.

Why Do Cats Spread Their Toes When You Touch Them?

You’ve probably seen your kitty spread their toes as you pet them, or run your hand over their paw. Since there are cats out there who enjoy having their paws and especially their paw pads massaged, by spreading their toes they’re giving you better access.

As I mentioned before your cat’s paw pads have scent glands that they use to claim their territory, so some cats will stretch their front paws towards you, or even your face and brush them against you in an attempt to mark you as their human.

For a relaxed kitty fully extending one or two paws might simply mean that they’re stretching their muscles, but if they’re reaching for you this might be a prelude to some kneading action.

When Should I Touch My Cat’s Paws?

Respecting your cat’s wishes to never touch their paws is great, but as we all know circumstances may arise when inspecting their paws, and getting a hold of them is necessary.

When Cleaning Their Paws

There might come a time when you’ll need to clean your cat’s paws, especially if they’re allowed to go outside, where your cat is most likely to pick up some dirt and mud.

I know what you might be thinking, cats are perfectly capable of cleaning their paws themselves, and that’s true! I’ve seen my cat spread his toes to thoroughly clean every inch of their paw from pad to nail, but some cats can be a bit lazy when it comes to grooming, and the dirt might simply be too much for them to get it off in one cleaning session or even two.

Then again there’s dirt that can be dangerous if, for example, your kitty stepped into oil, some spilled detergent, or even wet paint. Letting them lick that mess might cause a bad reaction, so having a good relationship with your cat’s paw will come in handy when you’ll have to wipe them with a soft wet towel.

Checking For And Treating An Injury

Cat paws are an important body part and no matter how defensive our feline companions are, accidents can happen. Outdoor cats often times get into fights with other cats, they might step on some sharp glass, or land awkwardly from the top of your closet.

Cats are also masters at hiding their pain, so looking for subtle signs and inspecting their bodies is important, and that can include their paws. Fernando Maritinez Toboada, a Veterinarian at the University of Sydney who specializes in anesthesia and pain management states that “if you see animals really flat, not wanting to move, that very often can indicate movement makes them uncomfortable.”

Once you’ve managed to inspect your cat’s paw, and you’ve found that there’s indeed an injury you will probably have to apply some treatment. This means that holding their paws will be part of your routine until they’ve healed, and in these situations having a cat comfortable with you touching their paw is extremely important.

Nail trimming

Most cats if given the right environment, by providing access to the outdoors, or having various scratching posts, can maintain their nails without human intervention. But there are certain circumstances that can make nail trimming a necessity.

Older cats or cats with mobility issues might have a hard time trimming their own nails and this can lead to overgrown nails that can grow into the pad causing injury and infection.

For similar reasons, if your cat’s claws grow too long, they’ll be unable to sheath them completely. This means that the sharp ends will get stuck to most things in your house like carpets, furniture, and even your clothes, which once again can lead to pain and discomfort.

As much as your cat mightn’t enjoy nail trimming, it’s important that you keep up with their maintenance. You can achieve this by creating a soothing environment and choosing a time when your kitty is relaxed. Pet them in their favorite spots and offer treats to create a positive atmosphere. Using the right tools is also a plus for quick and efficient nail trimming and while there are plenty of options out there my favorite is the Pet Republique Cat Nail Clippers that you can find on Amazon for a professional result.

Then again if you feel intimidated by this responsibility you can always take your cat to the veterinarian or a professional groomer!

How Can I Get My Cat To Let Me Touch Their Paws?

Whether it’s for your cat’s nail trimming sessions or an injury, having access to all four of your cat’s paws is important. Some cats can easily accept such handling, but with others, it might take time, that’s why patience is your best friend!

You can start by petting your cat on their favorite spots and any areas you know they tolerate, like their chin, behind their head perhaps their ears. Keep an eye on their body language and make sure your cat is relaxed and open to your touches and petting.

Since their paws are sensitive it’s important to be gentle as you move down their legs and slowly towards their paws. Don’t grab their paw or hold it tightly in your hand, instead use a grip that shows your cat that they’re not trapped. Perhaps let the paw rest in your palm as you use your fingers to slowly stroke it.

You can speak to your cat in a low sweet voice and slow blink at them to show them that you’re equally relaxed. When upon inspecting the paw you see them pull back, remove your hand and give your cat some time to access the situation. Once they’re calm you can start over starting from a neutral spot before moving back to their paws.

Since cats can be trained by using the positive reinforcement technique, making the whole experience stress-free is important. Don’t forget to give your cat a few treats to reward their patience and ignore any aggression or negative reaction, because shouting and being impatient will only work against you.

Knowing when to stop is essential when you’re interacting with your cat. Are their ears pulled back indicating that they want you to stop what you’re doing? Are they purring or are they tap their tail in frustration? There are common patterns every cat uses to communicate their discomfort or happiness and with time you could develop your own, but paying attention to your kitty is definitely the key to a happy relationship, and healthy paws!

Closing Thoughts

I think what we can all take away from this paw-journey, is that touching your cat’s paws isn’t the same as touching your friend’s hand, but the similarity in these two similar situations is consent.

If your feline companion wants to keep their toe beans private and tucked away that should be enough for us to respect their wishes. Perhaps with time and loving them on their furry terms we will eventually have the honor to touch and even hold their paws.

I for one am happy to wait!

Now, it’s your turn to let us know if your cats also don’t like their paws being touched, and if they do what’s your secret?

Marina Titova

Marina was cat-struck 8 years ago. It was early autumn when Dante, her grey cat, found her and adopted her. They’ve been inseparable ever since. Dante has been a great cat-teacher and BetterWithCats.net seemed like the perfect place to share his cat-knowledge.

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